When the old clock
That woke the dead
With its loud tick fell silent,
Eternity moved in.
A mirror looked toward the door
With eyes of a dog
Who wanted to be taken
Out for a walk.
[via threepenny review, winter '18]
J. S. Bach: F# Minor Toccata
This music weeps, not for sin
but rather for the black fact
that we must all die, but not one
of us knows what comes after.
This music leaps from key to key
as if it had no clear place to arrive,
making up its life, one bar at a time.
But when you come at last to the real theme,
strict, inexorable, and bleak,
you must play it slow and sad,
with melancholy dignity, or you miss
all its grim wisdom.
In three pages, it says, the universe collapses,
and you—still only halfway home.
What do they sing, the last birds
coasting down the twilight,
across woods filled with darkness, their
frayed wings curved
on the world like lovers' arms
which form, night after night, in sleep,
an irremediable absence?
in the grate. Whatever it is
that keeps us from heaven,
sloth, wrath, greed, fear,
could we only reinvent it on earth
Body of Loneliness
She entered my foot with her foot
and she entered my waist with her snow.
She entered my heart saying,
“Yes, that’s right.”
And so the Body of Loneliness
was covered from without,
and from within
the Body of Loneliness was embraced.
Now every time I try to draw a breath
she whispers to my breathlessness,
“Yes, my love, that’s right, that’s right.”
To Those of You Alive in the Future
who somehow have found a sip of water,
on this day in the past four syndicated
series involving communication with the dead
were televised and in this way we resembled
our own ghosts in a world made brief with flowers.
To you, our agonies and tizzies
must appear quaint as the stiff shoulders
of someone carrying buckets from a well
or the stung beekeeper gathering honey.
Why did we bother hurrying from A to B
when we’d get no further than D, if that?
On Monday, it sleeted in Pennsylvania
while someone’s mother was scoured further
from her own mind. A son-in-law smoked
in the parking lot, exhaling white curses
torn apart by the large invisible indifference.
The general anesthetic wore off
and someone else opened her eyes to the results.
In this way our world was broken and glued.
But why did we bother shooing away the flies?
Did we think we could work our way
inside a diamond if we ground more pigment
into the paper’s tooth, tried to hold fire
on our tongues, sucked at the sugars of each other?
Many the engagement rings in the pawnshop.
Many the empties piled at the curbs.
A couple paused on a bridge to watch
chunks of ice tugged by bickering currents.
One who slept late reached out
for one who wasn’t there. Breads, heavy
and sweet, were pulled from wide infernos
of stone ovens. My name was Dean Young,
I wrote it on a leaf. Sometimes
I could still manage to get lost,
there was no guidance system wired inside me yet.
Laughter might have come from a window
lit far into the night, others were dark
and always silent.
That this is the morning in which nothing much
that the sky is still there and the water dresses
accordingly that only at night does the water rest
vanish from sight that the stars are too small too far
to register there that all our names too are writ
invisibly on water that abiding requires more hope
than I can possibly acquire that hope is not a thing
with feathers that hope is a thing with a fist a thin
crust sketched over oceans that hope is what despair
uses for bait come in hope says the water's fine
that hope is the blood with which you write letter
that start dear sea dear ocean stop asking so fucking
much that hope is a telegram delivered by men
in pairs men in uniform a telegram that says missing
stop that says once again presumed lost stop
In night invisible wishes
search for tokens fallen
from pocket sewn dreams.
Slightly such songs stir
with traces that hint
through frozen wonder,
blind to any bedfast
beyond where outskirt
winds swift away hours.
Dust snow, apparent
shadow, faint occurrence
at a loss for any new
moment. Just to notice
betwixt variant desires
is glass eyed sentience,
time laden groundswell
blunted alive while framed
in echoes yielding silence.
from Approaches to How They Behave
--W. S. Graham
What does it matter if the words
I choose, in the order I choose them in,
Go out into a silence I know
Nothing about, there to be let
In and entertained and charmed
Out of their master’s orders? And yet
I would like to see where they go
And how without me they behave.
Speaking is difficult and one tries
To be exact and yet not to
Exact the prime intention to death.
On the other hand the appearance of things
Must not be made to mean another
Thing. It is a kind of triumph
To see them and to put them down
As what they are. The inadequacy
Of the living, animal language drives
Us all to metaphor and an attempt
To organize the spaces we think
We have made occur between the words.
The bad word and the bad word and
The word which glamours me with some
Quick face it pulls to make me let
It leave me to go across
In roughly your direction, hates
To go out maybe so completely
On another silence not its own.
Before I know it they are out
Afloat in the head which freezes them.
Then I suppose I take the best
Away and leave the others arranged
Like floating bergs to sink a convoy.
One word says to its mate O
I do not think we go together
Are we doing any good here
Why do we find ourselves put down?
The mate pleased to be spoken to
Looks up from the line below
And says well that doubtful god
Who has us here is far from sure
How we on our own tickle the chin
Of the prince or the dame that lets us in.
The dark companion is a star
Very present like a dark poem
Far and unreadable just out
At the edge of this poem floating.
It is not more or less a dark
Companion poem to the poem.
from The Constructed Space
--W. S. Graham
Meanwhile surely there must be something to say,
Maybe not suitable but at least happy
In a sense here between us two whoever
We are. Anyhow here we are and never
Before have we two faced each other who face
Each other now across this abstract scene
Stretching between us. This is a public space
Acheived against subjective odds and then
Mainly an obstacle to what I mean.
It is like that, remember. It is like that
Very often at the beginning till we are met
By some intention risen up out of nothing.
And even then we know what we are saying
Only when it is said and fixed and dead,
Or maybe, surely, of course we never know
What we have said, what lonely meanings are read
Into the space we make. And yet I say
This silence here for in it I might hear you....
How It Happens
--W. S. Merwin
The sky said I am watching
to see what you
can make out of nothing
I was looking up and I said
I thought you
were supposed to be doing that
the sky said Many
are clinging to that
I am giving you a chance
I was looking up and I said
I am the only chance I have
then the sky did not answer
and here we are
with our names for the days
the vast days that do not listen to us
A Message to Po Chu-I
--W. S. Merwin
In that tenth winter of your exile
the cold never letting go of you
and your hunger aching inside you
day and night while you heard the voices
out of the starving mouths around you
old ones and infants and animals
those curtains of bones swaying on stilts
and you heard the faint cries of the birds
searching in the frozen mud for something
to swallow and you watched the migrants
trapped in the cold the great geese growing
weaker by the day until their wings
could barely lift them above the ground
so that a gang of boys could catch one
in a net and drag him to market
to be cooked and it was then that you
saw him in his own exile and you
paid for him and kept him until he
could fly again and you let him go
but then where could he go in the world
of your time with its wars everywhere
and the soldiers hungry the fires lit
the knives out twelve hundred years ago
I have been wanting to let you know
the goose is well he is here with me
you would recognize the old migrant
he has been with me for a long time
and is in no hurry to leave here
the wars are bigger now than ever
greed has reached numbers that you would not
believe and I will not tell you what
is done to geese before they kill them
now we are melting the very poles
of the earth but I have never known
where he would go after he leaves me
The Bamboo by Li Ch’e Yun’s Window
--Po Chü-I (trans. Kenneth Rexroth)
Don’t cut it to make a flute.
Don’t trim it for a fishing
Pole. When the grass and flowers
Are all gone, it will be beautiful
Under the falling snow flakes.
Staying at Bamboo Lodge
--Po Chü-I (trans. James Cryer)
an evening sitting under
the eaves of the pines
at night sleeping
in Bamboo Lodge
the sky so clear you’d say
it was drugs
meditation so deep, thought
I’d gone home to the hills
but Clever can’t beat
and Quick won’t match
(you just can’t pave the Way)
the Gate of Mystery!